Analysing terrain data
The exposure grade does not take into account objective hazards (stone fall, seracs, etc) but only the consequences of the skier falling.
Low Exposure (E1): Exposure is limited to that of the slope itself. Getting hurt is still likely if the slope is steep and/or the snow is hard.
Medium Exposure (E2): As well as the slope itself, there are some obstacles (such as rock outcrops) which could aggravate injury.
High Exposure (E3): In case of a fall, death is highly likely.
Extreme Exposure (E4): In case of a fall, the skier faces certain death.
As you drive along the main road in the valley of Serre Chevalier between Monêtier and Villeneuve, there’s a whole mountain on the ski area side that is blissfully completely lift and piste free.
This is the Tête du Grand Pré and Les Guibertes area of the mountain and one look at it will tell you it holds some pretty special off piste potential.
There are lines all over the mountain and some locals have spent years discovering epic descents and then not talking about them.
Some pleasure’s, it seems, are not to be shared.
Careful exploration of this area will pay dividends but the key word here is careful as the mountain is generally steep and there are numerous hidden cliff bands and avalanche couloirs to catch you out if you make a mistake.
The delicate route finding here is really best done with a local instructor or guide who knows the mountain well – and not even all of them do.
The classic, and in many ways the best, couple of routes down the mountain is known as the Couloir des Guibertes.
There are a couple of variations on what is essentially the same run but the feel is similar for all of them.
Wide open faces up high followed by narrow and fairly steep tree lined gulleys and glades, followed by open tree skiing near the bottom.
The approach to the run involves a hike up the Cucumelle followed by a ski and traverse high on the south face of the Tête du Grand Pré.
A short side step or climb leads to another traverse, this time on the southeast face of the same mountain.
At the end of this traverse, the col des Guibertes is the start of the descent.
There is a lot of traversing involved to get to the Tete du Grand Pré.
If you are on a snowboard it is much easier if you are goofy or happy riding switch.
Heel edge traversing can be a slow, frustrating process.
Head north down the wide open face that leads towards the tree line - look out for a couple of cliff bands.
Your exact line will depend on the snow and its stability and it can sometimes pay to head further left onto the more east and northeast facing slopes.
As the slope gets gentler, look for the terrain to funnel into a natural gulley heading to the northeast.
Follow the gulley that will lead you over a crest and into suddenly steeper terrain.
Carry on the same line, avoiding a rocky section just to the left.
Once past the rocks you’ll be able to bear left and transition into another gulley and then a wide open glade with small trees and shrubs.
At this point you’ll feel a million miles away from the ski resort.
You can keep going straight down but the small trees can get a bit tight here.
If it gets too tight, bear left a bit into the larger trees.
You’ll come across a forest path that you traverse over on down to the valley floor.
Cross over the Nordic skiing pistes and head over the fields to the bridge over the river Guisane and then the bus stop on the main road at Le Freyssinet.